The ‘New Putney Debates’, organised by the Occupy movement’s London branch and held on the 27 of October at the Quaker headquarters in Euston, were a diverse affair. In fact, the defining feature could be said to be the disparate nature of the topics covered. The assembled speakers, while certainly united by an adherence to progressive policy, touched on a whole host of different themes. The fresh-faced Owen Jones started with a history of revolutionary movements in Britain, the environmentalist filmmaker Carlo Nero presented a short movie about the need for land ownership reform, Professor Victoria Chick gave a sombre review of how the banking system has become so iniquitous and Isabella Kaminska explored the deteriorating pluralistic credentials of social media and the wider internet. It was certainly an enlightening evening. Indeed, an undoubtable quality of the Occupy movement has been its ability to unite disparate socio-political frustrations under one banner.

Now, Occupy has shifted its focus from the City to our blemished democracy. Last week, a contingent of the movement’s followers took the protest to Parliament Square, aiming to convert the area into a forum for discussion and debate. As David Graeber has succinctly argued in the Guardian, what followed was a bizarre double reaction. The police acted as if the gathering was some sort of violent rebellion and used all power at their disposal to restrict the protest, while the media simultaneously decided that it was of no significance whatsoever and more or less ignored it completely. No wonder many of the people that turned up at Quaker headquarters were visibly frustrated.

Yet, while there was certainly a lot of passion on display, there was a palpable lack of cohesion in what was being deliberated. A quick check of the OccupyDemocracy website confirms they have a three-point agenda: a greater voice for citizens, removing the influence of money in politics and easing the process of voting for all. Noble enough intentions for sure, if a little vague, but a similarly well-defined strategy was missing on Monday night. The debates carried the subheading ‘Crash, Cuts, Crisis – Causes, Consequences, Solutions’. The panel and audience spoke in length about the causes and consequences, but solutions were more or less non-existent.

The only section of the panel that can be excused of this is the ecologist contingent. Carlo Nero, Fred Harrison and Peter Smith argued that the current state of land ownership law is the principle cause behind environmental degradation. Their solution was to convert to a system in which we all rent the land we live on. In essence, to move from a system in which we ‘own’ the environment around us, to one where we owe a debt to it and therefore protect it. It is a radical policy but at least it is concrete. Its merits can be argued for and its faults defended. Indeed, it was Fred Harrison who, during the Q&A session at the end of the panel’s speeches, accused the Occupy movement of lacking a consistent narrative.

One member of the audience suggested that a narrative already existed in socialism, and lambasted the room for not more openly embracing its ideals and strategies. It was a well-made point. Yet, to my mind, the Occupy movement is more closely aligned to Anarcho-syndicalism’s anti-state philosophy of direct democracy and citizen self-management. I have never known an Occupy representative to make a connection to either of these philosophies. They may have fallen out of fashion since the end of the Cold War, but they at least provide a clear set of principles and a strategy for change. I am not suggesting the Occupy movement should unreservedly tie itself to either of these, but a more coherent approach is necessary. The language of absolutes (all mainstream media is corrupt, all politicians are evil etc.), so commonly used by Occupy supporters, is also counterproductive. Nothing is that simple.

Since its conception in 2011, Occupy has achieved a great deal. Perhaps most notable has been the way the movement has forced socio-economic inequality into the limelight, initiating a healthy and necessary dialogue. Inequality frustrations are now an established part of the cultural zeitgeist. Just look at how successful and popular Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been. I believe the vast majority of people in this country agree with Occupy’s principle concerns. Now it just needs to develop these into a coherent political strategy. Whether that is revolution, political mobilisation within the current system or acting as a pressure group that aims to drag Labour to the left (much like UKIP has done with the Conservatives), without the tangible narrative that Fred Harrison alluded to, Occupy is doomed to fade away into obscurity.

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